Many great authors will tell you that it’s really hard to be successful in publishing. They will talk about doing boring things such as having a really good idea, perfecting your craft, editing, designing an expert marketing strategy, and all that other tedious stuff.
I’m here to tell you they’re wrong. In fact, it’s quite easy. Here are three agonisingly simple ways of writing a smash bestseller.
Method 1: Spontaneously enshrine the cultural zeitgeist which began defining an entire generation yesterday at 3.16pm
Who knew, for instance, that teenagers wanted a ghost-written memoir detailing the single-faceted life experiences of a seventeen-year-old girl who buys makeup and talks about it on YouTube, thinly disguised as fiction?
Method 2: Get People’s Backs Up
There are a couple of different ways of doing this. Either you can write something contentious (anything firmly wedged on either end of the political spectrum would do, for instance) or you can go the personal notoriety route, by writing a book after you’ve been arrested/publicly naked/a reality star/said something on Twitter that made everyone in the whole world hate your guts.
Method 3: Work numbingly hard for years writing multi-layered novels and growing your sales painfully slowly, until you reach the tipping point where sales beget greater sales, thereby achieving the success everyone will assume happened overnight
Oh. Okay. Maybe not so easy, then.
There are two stories in every story: the plot or premise of a novel, and the reality of how it got to be a bestseller. We’re familiar with some of these, such as how John Grisham’s empire began with him selling his indie-published The Client from his car; how J.K. Rowling soothed a crying baby in greasy spoon cafés whilst inventing Harry Potter, before getting rejected by at least 12 different publishers and then having a first print run of only 500; or how E.L. James’ Twilight fan-fiction went viral online, until it suddenly wasn’t fan-fiction at all, but rather a completely different book with original characters who apparently never felt the need to know anything about the BDSM community either, Your Honour.
But what of the less sensational stories? The sloggers, and the slow burners?
The story of success can become as fictional as books themselves. The first two methods of writing a bestseller are already newsworthy, and easy to sell. However, there is no headline for the media if you are method No. 3; if the fact is that you trudged along for aeons, before someone somewhere heard of you, and you gathered a couple of nice reviews as your sales rose in tiny increments, then more slowly still, until you finally hit the New York Times Bestseller List. (Unless you were about to lose your house and the government was threatening to repossess your children when you hit the List, in which case, there’s your angle, right there! Aren’t you lucky!)
It’s far sexier to make something up
The story of your book baby often must become a fiction in itself. Such as how it got published; the depression or poverty-stricken period which prompted you to write it; how long it took you to write it; or how long you’ve been writing in the first place.
I always think of Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls when I read wild success stories, because her first book was written in just THREE WEEKS. Three weeks! Seriously? Who writes an entire novel that good in three weeks?
But then I wonder – what exactly did she write in that time? Was it the first draft? And how much editing did it get? How much of it was rewritten? And edited again?
Ms O’Brien will I hope pardon me if I’m talking through my arse in the event that she did, indeed, churn out a fully-fledged modern classic in less than a month. Because the vast majority of people don’t.
The vast majority of authors re-draft their novels between three and ten times before they get a traditional publishing deal, if they’re lucky. Then, they will be made to do even more rewrites before the book comes out, oh, say, twelve to eighteen months after they sign their contract.
If they stay lucky, their publishers will then promote their books. Or perhaps they will find themselves organising their own book launches and signings, doing their own begging with shops to display their books, and spending more time than is healthy on social media doing dubious promotional shouting which could either attract readers, or turn them away forever.
If they do become successful, they may then be heard in interviews with newspapers and radio presenters, talking about how overnight success has changed their lives (despite the fact that their total royalties to date have amounted to €97.26).
So, Could I Get To The Point, Please?
Today there is nothing unusual about varnishing the truth of your journey, or even deepening the trauma of your past. Because whether we like it or not, both traditional and indie publishing can be about how you sell yourself, not your novel.
Mass media coverage can come from issue-based side stories about how your novel was born. This might relate to an actual news story, or a personal story about yourself. It’s true that nobody likes a liar or a braggart, but if the truth isn’t that interesting, you have to be smart about what you say. And as Oscar Wilde said (more or less), who cares, as long as you’re getting talked about?
After all, journalists and content providers are hungry for stories. Do give generously.